Courts, Places, and Culs-de-sac

Published 11 May, 2010; last updated on 14 March, 2019; originally posted at

The newer Australian suburbs I grew up in were largely typified by a rat’s nest of streets. Streets and roads led into avenues and crescents which lead into courts, places and culs-de-sac. Once I lived in a court which came off another court, causing pizza delivery men unending confusion.

The reasoning behind such planning was that lower levels of traffic led to quieter, safer communities. Kids could play in the streets, safe in the knowledge that a semi-trailer wasn’t about to come barrelling around the corner. Vehicles could get around their neighbourhoods much easier with none of the congestion you might find in the suburbs of the Victorian era.

Research from the University of British Columbia suggests that such town planning leads to problems of its own. As there’s a lot less traffic in these areas, there are fewer observant citizens and crime is able to flourish. Long, winding and dead-end streets mean that getting from A to B actually takes much longer than it would in a neat grid. This discourages walking in neighbourhoods and encourages the use of cars, resulting in higher levels of pollution and lower levels of fitness and health.

Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia recently passed a law limiting the number of culs-de-sac in new developments, pointing out that they’re also a lot more costly to provide amenities to.

It’s only fair that I point out that I am an inner-suburb-living soy-latte-drinking bicycle-riding Hoddle-grid-lover, and that the crime statistics in Melbourne don’t back up these theories at all. But in a country growing fatter that needs to reduce its dependence on oil, it’s certainly an idea worth thinking about.